OPINION: ‘Start spreading the news;’ a happy song brightens an airport

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

HEBRON, Ky. – The first thing to know is that the Cincinnati airport isn’t in Cincinnati or Ohio at all, but in Boone County, Ky., across the river.
After that confusion, there’s a simplicity and friendliness about this airport lacking in most. If it’s possible to enjoy a two-hour layover after a 10-hour flight on what amounted to a 28-hour day, Cincinnati’s airport is the place.
I was sitting in a bar nursing a beer and waiting to board a plane for Memphis. A jovial waitress was serving another customer, a darkly handsome businessman in a turtleneck and dress pants. She asked his hometown. When he answered Newark, N.J., she didn’t miss a beat.
“Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today,” she sang, a cappella, in a remarkably good voice full of gusto and gladness. Not Frank Sinatra. Not Liza Minnelli, but darn good for a waitress in an airport bar on a cold, drizzling December day.
“You’re Italian, right?” she asked the startled man between verses.
“Yes.”
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,” she began. By now everyone in the crowded area was staring at the singing waitress and the guy, who looked somewhat embarrassed to be serenaded.
Kathie Mendell – “Everybody calls me ‘Catfish’” – didn’t let laughter and a customer’s reluctance to be in the middle of the floor show discourage her. She was in full voice now, balancing nachos and beers and change while playing a sort-of geographic Twister with her vocals.
“And you’re from?” she asked me.
Mississippi, not far from Memphis, I said, eager to hear her selection for that combination.
Without breaking a sweat, Catfish broke into “Kentucky Rain,” a late Elvis hit. I was impressed.
I thought of the hundreds of times I’d been met with bored stares from airport employees. And here was a woman doing her best to entertain holiday travelers as they dealt with delays and homesickness and inevitable airline mishaps.
She loves the old Bing Crosby musical “White Christmas” and its title song, she said when I asked for a Christmas song. And she knew the beginning, which virtually nobody knows.
“The sun is shining, the sky is blue. The orange and the palm trees sway. There’s never been such a day. In Beverly Hills, LA. But it’s December the 24th; and I am longing to be up North. …”
Every now and then you meet somebody who is just a nice person, good to the bone, and it shows. Life may not have turned out exactly as she had planned, or put her on a Broadway stage or even given her the chance to try out her pipes on a more distinguished audience than a bunch of straggling, weary travelers.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t belt out a song and transform an ordinary day into an extraordinary moment.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.